How to Cut a Stump Close to the Ground: A Guide

How to Cut a Stump Close to the Ground: A Guide

Removing a tree stump that sits high above the ground can leave an unsightly and potentially hazardous wood stump behind. Cutting the stump as close to the ground as possible makes the area safer, more aesthetically pleasing, and easier to utilize. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the entire process of cutting a tree stump close to the ground, from initial preparation to dealing with the remaining roots and hole. Whether you want to reclaim space in your yard or ensure future trees have room to grow, cutting a stump near ground level is an essential landscaping skill.

In the following sections, I’ll cover the reasons for removing stumps close to the ground, the tools and techniques used, step-by-step instructions, safety precautions, and frequently asked questions. My goal is to provide everything you need to successfully take on this project and enjoy your stump-free yard. With the right approach and tools, you can cut that pesky old stump down to size in no time!

Why Cut a Stump Close to the Ground?

How to Cut a Stump Close to the Ground: A Guide

Removing the entire stump by cutting it as close to the ground as possible provides several benefits:


High tree stumps left sticking out of the ground are eyesores. Cutting the stump down to ground level gives a clean, uniform look to the landscape. This allows you to reuse the space more flexibly for planting beds, lawns, or other purposes.


Protruding stumps can trip people walking through the yard. They also pose a hazard for lawn mowers, string trimmers, and other equipment that could strike the wood. Cutting stumps flush with the ground removes these risks.

Space Utilization

Eliminating the entire stump above ground frees up the area for other uses. With the stump gone, you can plant a new tree, extend your garden, add mulch or pathways, and more.

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Preventing New Growth

Tree stumps left in place often send up new shoots and sprouts. Cutting the stump close to the ground helps prevent this regrowth. However, the remaining roots still need to be treated to fully stop new shoots.

Now that you know why it’s advantageous to cut stumps low, let’s look at the various tools and techniques used for this removal process.

Tools and Techniques for Cutting a Stump Close to the Ground

You have several options when it comes to cutting a tree stump near ground level. The right method depends on factors like the stump’s size, accessibility, and your available tools. Common techniques include using a:


For most property owners, a chainsaw is the go-to tool for removing stumps. Chainsaws make quick work of cutting through even large, solid stumps. They’re portable and provide precise control for cutting as close to the ground as possible.

Stump Grinder

Stump grinders use a rotating cutting disk to chip away the wood. Grinders can remove stumps 3-4 inches below ground level. Renting a stump grinder is ideal when removing multiple stumps.

Manual Tools

For small stumps, manual tools like axes, handsaws, pry bars, and shovels can be effective. These methods require more physical exertion but are cheaper options.

Now let’s dive into the step-by-step process for cutting a tree stump close to the ground.

Preparing the Area

Removing a stump starts with proper site preparation:

Clearing Debris and Obstacles

Pick up any fallen branches, rocks, or other items around the stump. Remove weeds, vines, or brush that may interfere with cutting.

Remove Rocks and Other Hard Objects

Use a shovel or pry bar to extract any large rocks, roots, or buried debris around and under the stump. These can damage cutting tools if struck.

Trim Surrounding Vegetation

Prune back any nearby plants, shrubs, or tree branches. This prevents them from obstructing your work.

Digging Around the Stump

For larger stumps, use a shovel to dig a trench 6-12 inches deep around the perimeter. Expose any large lateral roots and sever them with loppers or a chainsaw. Removing these anchoring roots makes the stump easier to grind down or lever out later. Digging around the stump also allows you to cut lower.

With the site cleared and prepared, it’s time to start cutting down that tree stump.

Cutting the Stump with a Chainsaw

For most residential stump removal projects, a chainsaw is the best tool for the job. Follow these tips to safely and effectively use a chainsaw to cut your stump close to the ground:

Choosing the Right Chainsaw

Select a chainsaw with enough power to cut through the stump’s width and wood type. The engine displacement, bar length, and chain type indicate its cutting capacity. Safety features like chain brakes and anti-vibration handles are also important.

Cutting Technique

Proper technique is crucial for safe, successful stump removal. Here are some best practices when cutting stumps with a chainsaw:

  • Position yourself with solid, stable footing. Stand on the left side with your right hand on the saw handle.
  • Start the top cut a few inches behind the stump’s outer edge. This angled cut removes the bulk of the material.
  • Make incremental horizontal cuts inward to meet the angled top cut line. Avoid cutting straight down, which can pinch the saw.
  • Watch for soil buildup on the saw chain, which dulls it. Stop regularly to clean the chain with a wire brush.
  • As you get close to ground level, be very careful to avoid contacting the soil with the chain. Striking dirt is dangerous and damages saw chains.
  • Cut until only 1-2 inches of wood remains above ground. The rest can be ground down later.
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With practice and caution, you can fell even large stumps using a chainsaw. Now let’s look at some alternative removal methods.

Alternative Methods for Cutting a Stump Close to the Ground

While a chainsaw is ideal for most stump cutting, the following options also work well:

Using a Stump Grinder

A stump grinder uses a rotating cutting disk to grind down and chew up the wood. The cutting wheel is lowered and methodically swept back and forth across the top of the stump to chip away the wood. Stump grinders can remove stumps 3-4 inches below ground level. They’re especially handy for grinding roots left after initial removal. Renting a stump grinder from a home improvement store is usually the most affordable option. Protective gear like goggles, ear protection, gloves, and a face shield should always be worn due to the machine’s noise and flying wood chips.

Manual Stump Removal

While labor-intensive, smaller or more accessible stumps can be removed manually with persistence:

  • Use a mattock or axe to chop away surface roots around the perimeter of the stump.
  • Create a notch with your axe or saw about hip-height in the stump’s trunk.
  • Use a heavy pry bar, levers, or high-lift jacks inserted into the notch to slowly pry up the stump.
  • Rock the stump back and forth to loosen the remaining taproot and wrest it from the ground.
  • Chop or grind away any roots or wood remaining at ground level.

Manual removal requires more physical exertion but avoids the noise and mess of powered stump cutting tools.

Dealing with the Remaining Stump and Roots

Once the stump is cut down close to the ground, there’s still more work to be done:

Grinding the Stump Below Ground Level

Use a stump grinder to remove the final few inches of wood left above ground. Adjust the grinding wheel’s depth to chew down 3-4 inches below the surface to completely eliminate any remaining stump. This also pulverizes the perimeter roots.

Filling the Hole

The ground will be uneven and partially collapsed after grinding out a large stump. Refill the hole with native soil and pack it down firmly. Top with fresh topsoil or organic mulch like wood chips or bark to level out the area.

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Treating the Stump to Prevent Regrowth

To stop new shoots, treat the ground area with either chemical or natural solutions:

  • Chemical stump killers containing glyphosate or triclopyr can help prevent regrowth when applied to freshly cut stumps. Always follow product directions carefully.
  • Covering the site with natural mulch like wood chips helps deter new sprouts. Frequent monitoring and removal of any shoots may still be needed.

With these final measures, you can help keep your stump from coming back while also leaving the site ready for reuse.

Safety Precautions and Tips

While cutting stumps close to the ground provides many benefits, it comes with inherent dangers. Follow these safety guidelines to protect yourself and get the job done right:

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Wear sturdy boots and jeans to protect your legs from chips and cutting tools.
  • Use safety glasses or goggles and headphones to shield your eyes and ears.
  • Work gloves improve your grip and guard your hands from blisters, flying debris, and pinching.

Chainsaw Safety

  • Take chainsaw safety training if possible and thoroughly understand your machine’s operation.
  • Keep both hands firmly on the chainsaw when cutting. Don’t overextend your reach.
  • Support larger saws from underneath to maintain control.
  • Shut off the saw before transporting it or making any adjustments.
  • Perform regular maintenance and keep the chain sharp. Dull chains are dangerous and ineffective.

By taking proper precautions, you can safely remove stumps with excellent results.


Cutting down tree stumps close to ground level not only improves aesthetics but also enhances utilization and safety of the space. With the right tools, proper preparation, and safe techniques, property owners can successfully remove unsightly, protruding stumps from their landscape. Always use extreme care when operating power equipment like chainsaws and stump grinders. A debris-free, stump-free yard provides an excellent palette for new gardens, trees, walkways, and other enhancements. Tackle that old tree stump today – your yard will thank you!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below I’ve answered some common questions about cutting stumps low to the ground:

How long does it take for a stump to rot?

Depending on the tree species, diameter, and climate, it can take anywhere from 3 to 10+ years for a stump to fully decompose on its own. Proper removal is faster and eliminates waiting.

Can I burn a stump to remove it?

Trying to burn out a stump is extremely dangerous and not recommended. It often fails to fully consume the stump yet poses severe fire risks.

What is the best time of year to cut a stump close to the ground?

Winter and early spring are ideal times to remove stumps since the ground is softer and roots loosen when dormant. Summer’s dry soil can hinder digging out all the roots.

How can I prevent my chainsaw from getting damaged while cutting a stump?

Avoid dull chains, don’t forcefully cut into soil, and be cautious of embedded rocks and dirt. Precision cuts also help prevent chainsaw damage.

Are there any eco-friendly alternatives to chemical stump treatments?

Covering the stump hole with natural mulch is an organic method to deter regrowth. Vinegar or concentrated salt solutions can also help. Monitor and remove any new shoots.

Can I plant a new tree in the same spot as a removed stump?

Yes, a new tree will have sufficient room to grow after eliminating the previous stump. Just amend the soil with compost when planting the replacement tree.

How do I dispose of the stump and roots after removal?

Rent a wood chipper to break down roots and stump wood into organic mulch. Or hire a tree company to remove the debris. Some towns also provide large debris disposal.

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